Tuesday, April 8, 2014

(Happy Masters 2014 Eve Eve: Remembering 2013) The Masters of The Bull and The Chippendale

Scott (left) and Cabrera were masterful under pressure

AUGUSTA -- The 77th Masters was drowning in a sea of fine print, paperwork and the somewhat stupefying Rules of Golf Sunday when an unscripted finish rode in from, of all places, the Southern Hemisphere.

A Chippendale from Australia and a bull from Argentina cursed both the light rain and the north Georgia gloaming to put on a show they’ll be talking about here as long as azalea blooms and ladies drink mint juleps on the veranda.

Adam Scott, the Aussie with the sweet swing and the belly putter, the 32-year-old who women golf fans are positive would win more if he’d just play with his shirt off, grabbed his country’s first green jacket by draining a 15-foot putt on the second hole of a playoff to win it, the same No. 10 green where Bubba Watson won his first green jacket in a playoff last year.

Scott’s Sunday 69 and final score of 279 was 9-under and earned him his first major. Playing the part of the cool breeze, Scott took the lead on the back nine with birdies on the two par 5s, then a crucial birdie putt on the storied 18th to go up by a stroke.

But to get that done, Scott had to beat a raging bull in Angel Cabrera, a two-time major winner who started the day with a share of the lead, lost it in the water of Rae’s Creek, then roared back to capture a share of it, stomping and shrugging and throwing mean got-to-have-it irons into 16 and 18 and tangoing off both greens with birdies. The 43-year-old won the Masters in 2009 in a playoff and got himself into this one with a 7-iron from 163 yards out to 3-feet on 18 in the rain when Scott was already inside the clubhouse with that 1-stroke lead. As soon as Cabrera hit his iron, muddy divot flying, he knocked fists with his son and started walking toward his ball as if he were sure he’d be picking it up out of the cup.

“The only one thing in my head was about winning,” said Cabrera, Argentina’s blessed answer to America’s Charles Barkley. “I had a lot of peace of mind and I was very confident. I knew that it depended on me. I knew that they can make some birdies, but I was still thinking that it depended on me.”

This is a guy who didn’t even own a pair of shoes until he was a teen. 
He was a caddie in Cordoba who was taught to play when he was 15. 
Since winning the Masters in ’09, “El Pato” (The Duck, his nickname), has had 10 teeth replaced because of painful dental problems, has had minor surgery to repair a small tear in his lower digestive system and has suffered tendonitis in his left wrist. Meanwhile, he’d nearly fallen out of golf’s World Rankings. This guy, for goodness sakes, is a grandfather already.

Needing a birdie on 18 Sunday at The Masters? In the rain? To force a playoff? Yawn.

Cabrera sank the putt, hugged his caddie son, smiled, and headed back down the fairway for extra innings.

“I have a lot of confidence in myself, so I am going to keep on going,” Cabrera said.

So did Scott, toughened by a stinging loss in last year’s British Open when he bogeyed each of the final four holes of the tournament and lost to Ernie Els. So after this battle-tested pair traded pars on 18, the first playoff hole, they headed to 10 to try to beat both each other and the darkness.

Good drives. Good approach shots.

Cabrera’s putt first, from 18 feet. It died on the edge. Right on the absolute edge. A tap-in for par.

Then Scott’s putt found the bottom. Center cut. Birdie. Masters champion.

It was over.

His celebration on 10 did not equal the one on 18 when he made the putt on his 72nd hole of the tournament to take the 1-stroke lead, a lead Cabrera would match moments later. But by then, in all the drama and energy of the past half hour, who had much emotion left?

“To make a couple putts to win the Masters tournament is just an amazing feeling,” said Scott, now a 9-time PGA Tour winner.

After hugging his caddie, Scott got a hug from Cabrera, and then from Cabrera’s son. It had the feeling of the bull hugging the matador.

“Unfortunately in playoffs, it’s one-on-one, head-to-head,” Cabrera said. “And there’s got to be only one winner, and he was able to win. 
He’s a great player, a great person. I’m happy for him. (But) I played very well both holes.”

Sometimes, you play well and get beat. And sometimes, you play poorly and lose. Scott knows that from the most recent British Open, but also from the 1996 Masters. Well-documented is Scott’s story of skipping school when he was 15 to watch his hero, Greg Norman, in the final round of the ’96 Masters. When Norman blew a six-stroke lead, Scott cried.

“Australia, it’s a proud sporting nation, and this was one notch in the belt that we had never got,” said Scott, who’s finished second twice at majors ('11 Masters, '12 Open Championship) and was third at the 2006 PGA. “Amazing it’s come down to me, Mark (Leishman) and Jason Day. It could have been any of us. But there was one guy who inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman.”

Day, trying to become both the first Masters champ from Australia and the first Masters champ with a beard, began the day two strokes out of the lead. He grabbed it at 9-under after a birdie on 15 because some people behind him were having trouble making pars.

Sunday’s starting time co-leader, Brandt Snedeker, had four bogeys in six holes beginning at 9 and finished tied for sixth. Leishman, fellow countryman of Scott and Day, also started the day at 5-under but disappeared from contention when his ball found the pond on 15. 
Leishman also tied for fourth.

Tiger Woods, big news since Friday because of his 2-shot penalty assessed the morning after the second round, started the day four shots back, shot a 70, and finished in the same spot, tied with Leishman. For a while during his 1-over front nine, it looked like he was trying to disqualify himself after all.

So while Scott was making steady progress, it was, in fact, the  
entertaining Argentinian who was providing the best back-nine drama. 
Cabrera surrendered the 2-stroke lead he took into the back nine when he bogeyed 10 and then 13 when he tried to carry Rae’s Creek on his second shot out of pine straw. El Pato never looked more like a cross between a duck and the Tasmanian Devil then he did as he spun out of the shoes on his swing, then flipped the club when his ball found the creek.

“I had a very good angle and a very good lie,” said Cabrera, who did not come all the way to Augusta or to America or apparently to the PGA Tour to lay up. “And I was thinking about making a birdie. I told my son that, you know, we could do an eagle, also.”

Cabrera had to scramble for par on 15 too, then got serious with those deadly irons on 16 and 18 to force the playoff. Oh, and his putt on 17 scared the hole before he tapped in for par.

Day missed his par putt on 16 and found the trap on 17 and bogeyed both to make it a solid two-man show, which it evermore was. Though Day and Leishman and even the revered Norman faltered, Scott had Australia’s back: he saved his most timely heroics for his putt on 18, a stoke that set up another Masters playoff and another Masters memory.

For Australia to win should really come as no surprise. Sunday back-nine drama at the Masters is, after all, a rule. The world almost always gets turned upside-down back there.